learn German online free: conjugation and the tenses - classification of verbs - list of verbs - Stammformen - principal part

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A classification of German verbs

Now that we have covered the auxiliaries and their use we come to another fundamental subject matter: the classification of verbs. Note the three classes of verbs:

  • 1. unregelmäßige Verben (irregular verbs)
  • 2. starke verben (literally: strong verbs)
  • 3. schwache Verben (literally: weak verbs)

Again the terms weak and strong pertain to the expressiveness of the verbs. Irregular verbs can be defined as verbs that don't follow the line of either starke or schwache Verben. The verb sein for example is an irregular verb because there are too many modifications of the stem to call this word regular:

Ich bin da. (I am there.)
Er ist da. (He is there.)
Wir sind da. (We are there.)

The stem changes completely while inflecting sein, which is why we call this verb irregular. Starke Verben are fairly regular, only that the vowel of the stem tends to change: laufen, läuft, lief, gelaufen are the principal parts that show the modifications of the stem (Stammformen). You will need to learn all the Stammformen of the starke verben because everything else can be deduced from the Stammformen. But don't worry, I have extracted the most important verbs for you and you will find them all on this page. Schwache Verben know no such mutation of the vowel: leben, lebt, lebte, gelebt (to live). You only have to learn the infinitive. If you look at the starke Verben very closely, you will see that a variation occurs in the second (du = you) and third (er, sie, es = he, she, it) person singular of the Präsens. The Partizip of the starke Verben is composed by ge+[stem]+en. The Partizip of the schwache Verben is composed by ge+[stem]+t.

ich bau -e lauf -e
du bau -st läuf -st
sie bau -t läuf -t
wir bau -en lauf -en
ihr bau -t lauf -t
sie bau -en lauf -en

Schwache Verben have one and the same stem:

bauen baut baute gebaut
kucken kuckt kuckte gekuckt
holen holt holte geholt

Starke Verben have the vowel mutations we spoke about:

laufen läuft lief gelaufen
sprechen spricht sprach gesprochen
essen isst aß gegessen

The following verbs are the most important starke verben, which you'll have to learn. In this table you will only find the most relevant meaning.

Infinitiv Präsens Präteritum Partizip
beginnen beginnt begann begonnen
begin begins began begun
beißen beißt biss gebissen
bite bites bit bitten
biegen biegt bog gebogen
bend bends bent bent
bieten bietet bot geboten
offer offers offered offered
bleiben bleibt blieb geblieben
stay stays stayed stayed
brechen bricht brach gebrochen
break breaks broke broken
dringen dringt drang gedrungen
penetrate penetrates penetrated penetrated
empfinden empfindet empfand empfunden
feel feels felt felt
essen isst gegessen
eat eats ate eaten
fahren fährt fuhr gefahren
drive drives drove driven
fallen fällt fiel gefallen
fall falls fell fallen
fangen fängt fing gefangen
catch catches caught caught
finden findet fand gefunden
find finds found found
fliegen fliegt flog geflogen
fly flies flew flown
fließen fließt floss geflossen
flow flows flowed flowed
frieren friert fror gefroren
freeze freezes froze frozen
geben gibt gab gegeben
give gives gave given
gehen geht ging gegangen
go goes went gone
genießen genießt genoss genossen
enjoy enjoys enjoyed enjoyed
gewinnen gewinnt gewann gewonnen
win wins won won
gießen gießt goss gegossen
pour pours poured poured
graben gräbt grub gegraben
dig digs dug dug
halten hält hielt gehalten
hold holds held held
hängen hängt hing gehangen
hang hangs hung hung
heißen heißt hieß geheißen
be called
helfen hilft half geholfen
help helps helped helped
kommen kommt kam gekommen
come comes came come
lassen lässt ließ gelassen
let lets let let
laufen läuft lief gelaufen
run runs ran run
lesen liest las gelesen
read reads read read
nehmen nimmt nahm genommen
take takes took taken
riechen riecht roch gerochen
smell smells smellt smellt
schlafen schläft schlief geschlafen
sleep sleeps slept slept
schlagen schlägt schlug geschlagen
hit hits hit hit
schließen schließt schloss geschlossen
close closes closed closed
schreiben schreibt schrieb geschrieben
write writes wrote written
sehen sieht sah gesehen
see sees saw seen
sprechen spricht sprach gesprochen
speak speaks spoke spoken
stehen steht stand gestanden
stand stands stood stood
tragen trägt trug getragen
carry carries carried carried
vergessen vergisst vergaß vergessen
forget forgets forgot forgotten
verlieren verliert verlor verloren
lose loses lost lost
waschen wäscht wusch gewaschen
wash washes washed washed
werden wird wurde (ge)worden
become, get, be
ziehen zieht zog gezogen
pull pulls pulled pulled

Differences stark/schwach in the Präteritum:

The Präteritum of the schwache Verben is composed by [stem]+t+[suffix]. The Präteritum of the starke Verben is composed by [stem]+suffix while the first and third person singular have no suffix.  

Table:   quick info on forms (conjugation) of the German Präteritum  ( de , 619   x   833 );  Keywords:  Präteritum, tense, starke und schwache Verben, forms, Bildung, Konjugation, conjugation, German, grammar;

Now let us see what we have got: These are about 50 verbs with four principal parts each. Yes, in German there are four, in English three. You'll need one extra part for the Präsens as we have seen. That makes 200 forms you'll have to memorize. There seem to exist around 170 starke Verben, but most of them you had better not waste your time with as they are very old verbs. I am just noting this down for you to see how much energy you'll have to invest into learning good German; do you still remember that I promised in the beginning to empower your German perfectly with as little effort as possible? For that we'll have to learn not everything, but effectively. I plan to implement some exercises via javascript, let's see if we can create even more ease, learning German.

On the next page I have noted some determiners, these are very important ones, which you'll have to learn, too, and also the adjectives. I'll explain this later. The second part of the next chapter is a complete list of all tenses of the German language. If you learn the basic patterns of how to form the Präsens or the Präteritum for schwache and starke Verben, then you won't have to learn all the tables by heart. But do take a look at the whole structure. By understanding this overview, you'll gain a more intuitive understanding. This will enable you to remember the patterns easier.

The modal verbs (die Modalverben)

The principal parts are very important to form the tenses. To form the tenses of the schwache verben you'll only have to learn the infinitive. Now I'll show you what else you can do with the Infinitiv. As we said, the Infinitiv, like the Partizip, too, is a component, not a tense. Come to think of it, the Infinitiv is often combined with modal verbs, just like in English. The English construction to form the future tense uses the infinitive, too. For example like this sentence: I will come. Will is the modal verb, come the infinitive. In German this is: Ich werde kommen. Werde is the modal verb, kommen the Infinitiv. So this is easy to remember. And like in English, too, you can use different modal verbs with the infinitive. To remember this easier I don't see this structure as the "future tense", but just a very special construction with very special verbs, the modal verbs:

Ich kann kommen. (I can come.)
Ich muss kommen. (I must come.)
Ich will kommen. (I want to come.)
Ich werde kommen (I will come.)
Ich darf kommen (I am allowed to come.)
Ich soll kommen. (I should come.)

So now you have learnt how to use modal verbs of German. The modal verbs are somewhat complex. We will return to them later on again.

Now I will show you how to form the Infinitiv Perfekt, this too being a component. You have seen how to form the Perfekt tense, for example: Er hat ein Haus gebaut. You extract the verbal components: hat gebaut. Then you make an Infinitiv out of the finite auxiliary: haben gebaut. And then you just place the Infinitiv at the end: gebaut haben. voilà that's it.

Some more examples:

getrunken haben
gefallen sein
gesprochen haben
gefahren sein, etc. etc.


Ich werde das morgen geschafft haben. (Tomorrow I will have completed this.)

Ich werde bald das Buch durchgelesen haben. (I will soon have finished reading the book.)

And what do we do with it? Just like in English you can now combine this Infinitiv Perfekt with the modal verbs. In English for example you say (that is the future perfect): I will have done it. It is the same method you apply.

Modal verbs,   depiction of their syntactic arrangement and constituents  ( en , 800 x 533 ); Keywords: Modal verbs, Modalverben, usage of the modal verbs, Gebrauch und Anordnung der Modalverben, Struktur, Syntax

The pluperfect

What else can you do with the principal forms? You can form the pluperfekt, called in German Plusquamperfekt, meaning more than Perfekt. The name is derived from the fact that the Plusquamperfekt is a tense expressing a past before the past, that is to say that something took place before an event that happened in the past, for example:

After he had brushed his teeth he went to bed.
Nachdem er seine Zähne geputzt hatte, ging er ins Bett.

You form this tense with the Präteritum of haben (have) and a Partizip.

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